Lindsey Vonn Takes Bronze Medal In Her Final Race
ARE, Sweden — Add one more — final — comeback to Lindsey Vonn’s list of career accomplishments.
Five days after crashing in super-G — a fall that knocked the wind out of her and left her with a black eye and a bruised rib — and three months after tearing a ligament in her left knee, Vonn won the bronze medal in the world championship downhill Sunday in the final race of her career.
“I’m literally tapped out — I can’t cry anymore,” Vonn said. “I want to cry, but it’s dry. It’s not an easy thing to feel your bones hitting together and continue to push through it.”
She continued: “Of course I’m sore. Even before the crash, I was sore. So I’m just sore on top of sore. My neck is killing me. But at the end of the day, no one cares if my neck hurts. They only care if I win.”
Vonn had been planning on waiting until December to retire, but she moved up her plans because of persistent pain in both of her surgically repaired knees. Then came the super-G crash, when she straddled a gate in midair, flew face first down the mountain and slammed into the safety nets.
“She has been business as usual this whole week, saying, ‘I’m racing to win,’” said Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m going full out.’ She was definitely in the mind-set to push it, and she really did.”
It is a medal that brings Vonn full circle. Her two silvers at the 2007 worlds on the same course in Sweden were the first two major championship medals of her career.
“I was weighing in my mind the risk of putting it all out there, crashing and getting injured again, as opposed to finishing where I wanted to,” Vonn said. “It was an internal battle.”
As soon as she left the finish area, Vonn embraced the Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, the only skier to have won more World Cup races than she did, 86 to 82.
“I basically begged him to come here, via text, in all caps, many exclamation points,” Vonn said. “He’s an icon and a legend in our sport, and he doesn’t really like the spotlight, but he deserves to have it. I was just so grateful that he was there. Honestly, it’s a perfect ending to my career.”
The third skier on the course, Vonn had a big smile on her face when she came down with the fastest run to that point. She waved and bowed to the crowd.
Eventually, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia beat Vonn and took gold, defending her title from the 2017 worlds. Stuhec finished 0.23 of a second ahead of the silver medalist, Corinne Suter of Switzerland, and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.
“Not many were counting on her to get the medal in her last race, which makes it even more special,” Stuhec said of Vonn. “She has won everything.”
Vonn became the first female skier to win medals at six world championships. This was also her fifth downhill medal at a world meet, matching the record established by Annemarie Moser-Proell and Christel Cranz.
“Thank You Lindsey: Forever A Star,” read one sign positioned by the side of the course.
Four United States flags were in the grandstand when Vonn came down, and there were quite a few cheers when she started her run wearing a suit with blue-and-yellow trim — Sweden’s colors — to honor Stenmark.
“She really deserves this send-off from her great career,” said Eleanor Bodin, a 21-year-old fan from Sweden who was holding up a sign saying “Thank You Lindsey.”
“She has been my favorite skier since 2008, when I saw her winning on television,” Bodin said. “I was a little girl sitting on the sofa. I just thought, What a great skier and inspiration.”
At 34, Vonn eclipsed her own record from two years ago for oldest woman to win a medal at a world meet.
Fog and wind led organizers to shorten the course to the second reserve start, which favored Vonn because it reduced the strain on her knees.
Now she can finally let her body heal and can move onto the next phase of her life — possibly acting, having children, starting a business.
“I’m looking forward to just chilling out a bit and recovering everything, including my mind,” Vonn said. “It’s been a lot to process.
“The nice thing is that, in the real world, I’m actually pretty young. I have felt really old for a long time, because I’m racing with girls that are, like, 15 years younger than me. So now, in the real world, I’m normal. Thirty is the new 20, so I’m super young. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”